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Lent 1A    
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church  
Lakeland, FL  
February 26, 2023  

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Back in the late 1879 two men invented Listerine.  It was originally intended to be used as a surgical antiseptic; it was supposed to be applied to the skin, or used to scrub floors and tables before surgery.  A few years later, the company that made Listerine started selling a diluted version of the product as an oral antiseptic.  It was advertised the way most products were advertised in those days.  There were claims about how effective it was at killing germs and testimonials from doctors and dentists about the benefits of using it as an antiseptic.  Good, solid, basic product marketing.

But then in 1920, the company that made Listerine changed its approach.  Instead of talking about how much better it was at killing germs, it started talking about how good it was as a cure for a newly named ailment, halitosis, which was a just a made up marketing word for “bad breath.”  Instead of using doctors and dentists to talk about how good it was, they would tell stories of lovelorn young men and women who wanted to get married, but couldn't because they had bad breath.  Of course, once they started using Listerine, their mouths were suddenly fresh and clean and they were soon walking down the aisle.  And Listerine became a huge success in the market place.

Listerine was one of the first mass produced products that was sold by appealing to our fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Instead of presenting the actual benefits of the product, the advertiser tries to appeal to our sense of inadequacy or our lack of trust.  Our fear of inadequacy, our need to be right, our worry about fitting in can all be extremely powerful motivators.  

What if I'm not beautiful enough?  Maybe I need that a new dress..
What if I'm not cool enough?  Maybe I need that new gizmo.
What if I'm not strong enough, or sexy enough, or rich enough?  Maybe I need that car, or house, or new outfit.

F.U.D. Marketing – playing on our fear, uncertainties and doubts. Of course, as today's readings show us, Madison Avenue didn't invent F.U.D. Marketing.  Satan did.  Consider Adam and Eve in the garden.  Two people living in the most desireable place on earth.  Their every conceivable need was fulfilled.  They had all the delicious food they could possibly want.  The temperature of the place was an always-perfect 75 degrees.  They were on a first name basis with God.  There was absolutely nothing they lacked.

Then one day, they come across the serpent, an expert in F.U.D. Marketing, and he makes a perfect appeal to their fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  “If God loves you so much, why doesn't God let you eat from that one tree?  What's God holding out on you?  And if God is hold this out, what else isn't God telling you?”

What else indeed.  In spite of the fact that they lived in the very definition of the ideal; in spite of the fact that they lacked absolutely nothing, in spite of the fact that they were not only created in God's own image, but that God pronounced them as “very good” when they were created, Adam and Eve were afraid.  And because of their fear they disobeyed the one commandment God gave them.  

This is just part of the Creation story – a story of God’s creative and loving hand at work. And today’s reading also teaches us that before there was that first sin of eating of the tree that God told them not to eat, we had “original insecurity,” “original doubt.” And it is our insecurity – our fears, our uncertainties, our doubts – that cause us to stray from God.  

Fast forward from the story of the Garden to the story of Jesus in the desert, where the devil makes another appearance.  The same insecurities are in play.  “IF you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”  And in that one little word, “if,” Jesus is confronted with all of the questions any of us have had about who we are and who we belong to.  Am I a good parent; will I have enough food to feed myself and my family?  Does God love me; can I count on God when I'm in trouble?  Will my friends also love me; do I lack the money, the power, the prestige to make it in the world?  Jesus was confronted with the same fear, uncertainty and doubt that all of us are. Is it really enough to simply be human?  

But Jesus knows that God fills every hole, every void, every inadequacy.  He knows that his food comes from God, and that he is beloved by God.  And so he is able to turn from his fear, uncertainty and doubt and entrust his life to God.  In the end, Jesus realizes that all that he is – his life and everything that's in it – is totally, utterly dependent on his relationship with God.  

The same is true for us.  Because the point of this Gospel story is not that Jesus was perfect and so he was able to resist temptation.  It is not that Jesus quoted Scripture when he was tested. But rather that Jesus was tempted, just as we are tempted.  And that Jesus struggled with his humanity, just as we struggle with our humanity.  And Jesus was utterly dependent on God, just as we are completely, totally, utterly dependent on God.

And that's the key – remembering that we are children of God and dependent on him.  In other words, our identity isn't defined by the things we have, or the cars we drive, or kind of stuff we buy.  We aren't even defined by whether or not we use mouthwash.

We are identified by our relationship to God, which was established when we were baptized and is sustained by the Feast at the Table.  We are identified by God's abundant love for us, regardless of what anyone else might think. We are identified by our love for one another, and our service to those who have the least to give us in return.

Jesus struggled with temptation, just as all of us struggle.  But he never let fear, uncertainty, and doubt define who he was.  As we begin our journey this Lent, may we also remember through our temptations that we are beloved by God.

Thanks be to God.